Small force for large animals

VIRGINIA - Wearing navy-blue coveralls, black rubber boots and a red baseball cap, Dr. Tony Hutchins leans over a metal pen and injects a milky-white vaccine into the neck of a 5-month-old Holstein calf.

The heifer wriggles about in the pen. Using an inked clamp, Hutchins tattoos her left ear and clips a triangular piece of skin from the right -- a literal earmark identifying the vaccination.

It's a small but vital task to protect the nation's food supply. And in a region where livestock is among the leading agricultural industries, large-animal veterinarians such as Hutchins not only provide a vital service to farmers who depend on their expertise to maintain the health of their livestock, but they are also on the front lines of defense against the spread of animal disease.

But in some parts of Virginia, the ranks of large-animal veterinarians are gradually thinning out as older practitioners retire and an increasing number of younger vets are drawn to careers treating household pets.

The shortage could put additional strains on farmers who raise livestock, and may make the nation more vulnerable to outbreaks of animal-borne illnesses such as avian flu and mad-cow disease, some in the profession say.

Source: Roanoke
calendar icon 17 July 2006
clock icon 1 minute read
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